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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Another look at 'A Focus on the Physical'

It's been quite some time ( a little over 4 years ) since I first broached this important subject, and though many articles that God has allowed me to write over those four years, have spoken, to some extent or another, to the subject, though not in so many words; I believe that a new look at the subject of physicality, and our seeming focus on it, is needed.

I began this short series of articles with the idea that this 'focus on the physical' had been, and still is, the impetus behind most, if not all of the 'problems' that have plagued the people of God throughout their history, beginning with the congregation in the wilderness ( the 'Exodus' ) and continuing today. I still believe this to be the case! Although, as I attempted to explain in the last article up to that point , a 'focus on the physical is not necessarily a bad thing, and that if we seek the Kingdom of God before all else ( Matthew 6:33 ), focusing on the things of the Spirit, rather than the things of the 'flesh' ( whether we want to admit it or not, some still live by 'law', rather than by grace; these are still 'in the flesh', in that sense ), and, as verse 33 also says, seeking His Righteousness, rather than our own; all these things will be 'added' to us ( in very fact, they are already ours, and multiplied daily! ): we needn't worry about a thing, we can concentrate on living to the fullest the Life that we have been given, loving the brethren, even the unloving and unlovable!

In the previous article; I broached the subject of 'the after-life', coming to the conclusion that, despite some seemingly Scriptural evidence to the contrary; Scripture actually does not really ever give us a clue about our life after this physical, biological body stops working. We do know for certain, as Jesus told Martha, in John 11:26, 'he who lives and believes in me will never die' that life continues after our physical body expires. Although Scripture is not clear what sort of existence we will have apart from our biological body ( Job 19:26 ); we know, and this should satisfy us, that we are 'always.......with the Lord' ( I Thessalonians 4:17 ( Philippians 1:23 ). Though we may no longer exhibit the physical presence; God has made His 'home' ( John 14:23 ) with us, and He dwells in us ( II Timothy 1:14 ), having made us 'temples of the Holy Spirit' ( I Corinthians 6:19 ). Some may posit, and I believe they may have a valid point, that all these Scriptures, particularly I Corinthians 6:19, refer to the transitional period, between AD33 and AD70, for instance because Paul told them that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit, in opposition to Judaism, which taught that a certain building, made by the hands of man, was the house ( dwelling ) of God. One may well ask here, though, 'if their/our bodies were/are the temple of the Holy Spirit; what happens when we no longer have a body?' Well; I believe this could be explained in several different ways, two of which are that Paul, as is usual for him, was not writing of individual bodies ( except that the Church is made up of individual persons ), but of 'Corpus Christi', or the corporate Body of Christ. Another explanation is that Paul is speaking metaphorically, of our 'spiritual body', the 'changed' ( I Corinthians 15:52 ) new covenant body which we 'inhabit' through the 'new creation' ( II Corinthians 5:17 ) because God made 'all things new' ( Revelation 21:5 ). ( Really, when you think about it; there's not much difference between the two... ) However one looks at it; it should be fairly obvious that Paul was not referring to the physical, biological 'husk' in which we currently walk this earth. Some might object to this, saying something like, 'our physical bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, just as they 'house' the soul'. At best; I would say that this kind of reasoning sounds almost Gnostic! Although I agree that we have an 'inner man', as Paul wrote, in Ephesians 3:16; there is no doctor on earth that could ever find this 'inner man', because Paul, as most writers, especially in that era and area of the world, often used metaphor to reveal certain hidden truths, which are qualitative rather than quantitative, something to be known ( with the intellect ) rather than to be felt, with the physical senses. Some might argue here, as well, that they have 'felt' a spiritual presence before, with their physical senses, and while I believe that this is true enough; I believe that this can be mainly attributed to the equivalent of an 'adrenalin rush', brought on by an acute sense of awareness, a knowledge of, and belief in whatever might be 'out there'!

I was recently involved in a discussion with several brothers, about the 'fact' that, in Philippians 3:21, Paul refers to individual bodies, though admittedly Paul most often speaks of 'the body' in a corporate, or covenantal sense. Although he does sometimes seem, without doubt, to speak of individual, physical, biological bodies, this is still questionable; but even given that he did speak of biological masses, quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, it is clear that he spoke of them in a metaphorical sense. He wrote, in verse 20, 'our citizenship is in heaven': who is he referring to here? In the context of his letter; he is obviously reminding the believers in Philippi that, in contrast to those who did not believe ( in Christ ), had not accepted the Gospel, their citizenship was in 'Heaven', as opposed to ( merely ) holding physical citizenship in the Roman Empire. Like I said before; in the sense that the Body of Christ is made up of individuals, some Scriptural application may be made to individual bodies, but, as Paul also wrote, 'you are all one in Christ Jesus' ( Galatians 3:28 ). In what sense was he saying that they were 'one'? In the sense, not that they no longer possessed an individuality ( ? ), but that their nationality, or status no longer defined them, as our biological make-up does not define us, but that, from the point of inception ( reception/conception ), they could be defined as 'one' Body, not unlike the physical union between a man and his wife, a corporate entity with a common purpose.

There are some who, while acknowledging that Jesus' 'Olivet Discourse', most famously recorded in Matthew 24, but also in Luke 21, and Mark 13, was ( mostly ) fulfilled in the 1st century, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but that the 'Parousia' ( AKA 'the second coming' ) is still in our future, as they believe that it is clearly stated in Acts 1:11 that Christ, whom they also believe still inhabits a physical body, will physically appear on this earth, thus completing our redemption, and bringing us ( creating ) a 'new heaven and new earth'. These brethren ( I cannot stress this important fact enough; they are BRETHREN, in the Body of Christ ) are known as partial-preterists. Most, not all, full preterists believe that Scripture teaches a corporate Body of Christ ( Romans 12:5, I Corinthians 12:12 ), and so it follows, I believe, that Christ does still inhabit a physical, biological Body, yet in a metaphorical sense, for 'as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also [ is ] Christ.' In the sense, as I mentioned earlier, that we have one goal, one purpose, and one Spirit, or as Paul wrote, 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism' ( Ephesians 4:5 ); we are, corporately, as Christians ( followers of God ), the Body of Christ, not a physical, biological mass ( that would be weird, to say the least ), but metaphorically, His physical Body on earth, fulfilling His promise in John 14:12, 'he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater [ works ] than these he will do, because I go to My Father'.

Why is it so important to remind folks of the detriment of being focused on the physical aspects of this Life that we have been given? Should we not be concerned about, even focused on, the responsibilities that God has placed upon us? Well, of course we should, but we should not focus on them to the point that we loose our focus on Christ ( God ), and begin to worry about our physical life ( for what is our life? ( James 4:14 ). Worry, more often than not, causes stress, and you don't need a doctor to tell you what stress can do to a body. Granted, stress is not always caused by worry. There are many physical and biological causes of stress, but worry needlessly causes many people to 'stress out'. God gave us these physical bodies for a reason; we have a job to do it, and He has also given us the strength to do it.

Adam, whether you believe that he was the first human being on planet earth, or that he was simply the first human being with whom God covenanted, was given a job to do; 'have dominion', but also, to multiply and replenish the earth, or, his dominion. Did Adam take the dominion that he was told to 'have'? Yes and no. Physically speaking, Adam and his progeny did what they were told; man has enjoyed, to a greater or lesser extent, dominion over God's animal creation ( at least those that aren't as 'smart' as we are ), and even somewhat, to a much lesser extent, over His natural creation, the earth itself, for thousands of years, and progressively for generations! If I read the new testament Scriptures correctly; Jesus, traditionally the second Adam, came to bring Life, whereas the first Adam only brought death.

The Death of Adam.

The death that Adam brought upon his progeny has been the subject of much debate for years, and unless something major happens ( this may be close on our horizon than we think ), it will likely continue for years to come. A strictly literal reading of our modern English bibles will tell you ( plainly? ) that Adam was the first human being on planet earth, and some have postulated that the death that he was threatened with ( ? ) in Genesis 2:17 ( 'in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die' ) was physical death, and that what God was really saying was 'in the day you eat you will begin to die'  that's why Adam only lived 962 years, instead of 'forever' ( Genesis 3:22 ), or taking the word 'day' as meaning a certain amount of time, and not necessarily a 24 hour period, God meant that if Adam ate of the wrong tree, his physical body would be eventually separated from its life-force ( Ecclesiastes 12:7 ). Yet another explanation for the death that Adam died, and this I believe, is pretty traditional in more orthodox circles, was that he died spiritually, in sin-death. To the covenant people of God; Isaiah wrote 'your iniquities have separated you from your God' ( Isaiah 59:2 ). Adam's sin of disobedience to God got him barred from the Garden, or the blessings of the Presence of God. This was obviously typical, or symbolic, as even the congregation in the wilderness carried the Presence of God with them, and 'they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ' ( I Corinthians 10:4 ), and even outside the Garden, God was with Adam, granting him still, the physical blessings of his labors ( though he now had to 'work' for them ), and Eve with the physical blessings of childbirth ( though now it was painful; she lost her first two ).

The point that spiritual death implies death of the spirit, has been brought up, and is, I believe, a valid point.  Now, as we read in Ecclesiastes 12:7, upon the demise of our physical body, 'Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it': this, I believe, is the generally accepted view of what happens when a biological body dies.Granted, then, that death means separation, whether it be separation from your life-force, or from God, the death that Solomon traditionally describes above, and in the rest of the passage, can be correctly termed death, although not even then ( necessarily ) spiritual death. If, as I have postulated before, the spirit of a wicked man, after it returns to God upon physical death, is then cast into the Lake of Fire, where it is incinerated, then indeed this would be spiritual death, for then even the spirit would cease to exist. This obviously was not the death that Adam died in/on the day he ate; he still had life/breath in his body, in this sense then, you could almost agree with the serpent in the Garden; Adam did not physically perish in the day that he ate. Looking back at the speculation above, that Adam began to die ( physically ) in the day that he ate, or that the 'day' that God spoke of was a certain amount of time that only He knew ( this latter point may have some validity, though not the validity that some 'see' ), it should be abundantly clear that this 'day' or era ( 'age' ) was decisively brought to an end during the ( covenantal ) transitional period, between Jesus crucifixion and the destruction of the old covenant ( Jewish ) economy, in 70AD.

Metaphorical, or symbolic death

There can be no question, however you look at it, that Adam died, just as God promised, in/on the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The question before us is WHAT death he died! We know that he was not struck down the moment he ate the fruit ( ? ), and we've seen that he did not spiritually die. The fact that Adam was removed from the Garden, which was significant of the blessings and Presence of God the same day that he ate the fruit, should give us a clue. The old covenant Scriptures, though the old covenant itself has passed away, are still there for our learning; though they undoubtedly happened as they were recorded, they were also written in such a way as to convey a deeper, hidden meaning, a spiritual truth that has only been revealed since the Advent of Christ, and I believe, is still being revealed. Adam's removal from the Garden was significant, or symbolic, of the fact that he had been separated from the tree of life ( Christ ) and this separation meant that things would not come so easily anymore, since he now could judge for himself between 'good and evil'; he had separated himself from the protection of his Father, and 'struck out' on his own!

I have used the analogy before, and I'm sure that most of those reading this are quite familiar with it, that, as in the parable of 'the prodigal son' ( Luke 15 ), a child that has been cut off, either deservedly or undeservedly ( does any child really deserve it? ) from his father and mother, is often referred to as 'dead' to them, not only because of a physical separation, but because of emotional separation, again, because of some event that has occurred whereby either one or both parties have become estranged to the point of loosing all manner of communication, or communion. This, like the death that Adam symbolically died that day, being cut off from the communion of his Father, could accurately be termed 'metaphorical death'.

'Let them have dominion........'

Adam, for all intents and purposes, was seemingly given dominion over all that he surveyed. As we saw above; it is fairly clear that, physically speaking anyway, he did take dominion, and this dominion, to some extent, has been widened and expanded over the generations since his 'day': this dominion is still being explored even in our day, even as far as venturing into 'outer space', to see if we can extend our dominion even that far. The history of our dominion of this wild country, beginning several centuries ago, and continuing to a lesser extent today, although a rather harsh one, and 'rightfully ours', has not usually been characterized by love. I'm not saying, please don't get me wrong ) that certain people didn't show love, either for those who were 'ousted', or just in their general dealings; they most certainly did, but I believe that, as in the case of man 'hostile takeovers', love was not a ruling factor. Even reading the history of Israel; we can see that many of their actions in 'having dominion', or rather, taking dominion, were not guided by a love for God and their neighbor as themselves. Yes; God's command to them was clear; in most cases, in 'clearing out' the land ( of promise ) in order to make it habitable and a glory to God; they were instructed to kill'em all ( 'and let God sort'em out'? ), but as we read in the new testament Scriptures; Jesus told them that they missed the whole point, by following the letter, rather than the Spirit of God's law.

Today; we too often follow their example, taking, by force, if necessary ( 'it's our right'! ) the dominion that we have been given, rather than first following the principle of God's law, which according to Jesus is 'love God, and love your neighbor'. God's not talking about some kind of 'touchy-feely' love, although love is an action. The kind of love we are to have for our neighbor, though akin to the love we should show to God, is not murdering them ( or even having hateful vengeful thoughts toward them ), not stealing from them, not bearing them false witness ( lying to or about them ), not committing adultery ( fornicating with them, not even thinking about it ), or coveting what they have. In other words, and this is where it is akin to our love for God; we should respect our neighbors 'rights', his possessions, etc. I guess that the point I'm trying to make here is that dominion without love is not true dominion, and neither is love truly love without having dominion ( control ) of our own thoughts, words and deeds.


Adam & Eve, because of their 'focus on the physical', sought their own wisdom, and thereby dominion ( 'knowledge is power' ), rather than being satisfied with the dominion that God had given them, as is so often the case today ( I look at my own life best! )


Wrapping this article up for now, for there will most likely be more to come: I would like to encourage my readers not to just take my word for it, but to search these thing out for themselves, to see if these things are indeed so, and as importantly, to examine with me, our own lives first, to see if our focus needs to be adjusted.


Charles Haddon Shank

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